Meet Arthur Petersen

Title: High school teacher
Affiliation: n/a
Interview Date: May 30, 2018
Interview Language: English
Spatial coverage: U.S. Virgin Islands

Topics Covered in this Interview:
– St. Croix
– agriculture, rainfed agriculture, livestock
– farmers, crops, agricultural drought

Interview Highlights

On the physical destruction of Hurricane Maria in 2017
The wind started blowing like early in the afternoon … when the intensity of the wind and the rain increased. …It sounded like four runaway locomotive trains. I mean, that’s what the wind sound like and it was intense, you know. …And for whatever reason, my windows survived all of that until a limb from a tree broke off and pierced my glass windows. … And all of the windows in the rest of the house just blew open because of the pressure. And from then on, it was a battle trying to keep the water out. … The water rolling down the hill from the rain just went right through my house, destroying everything that was on the floor. … So it’s going to be a major task, trying to restore my house. …When I got in town I was … amazed to see trees that I grew up with us as a child, and my parents told me that they were there when they were children, and those things had all gone.

On the emotional impacts of Hurricane Maria
I think that most people don’t understand that if like for 30 years, you’ve been amassing … your things that you need to live a quality life, and in a matter of hours it’s gone, that’s a stressful outcome. And you only need to experience it to understand and appreciate the horrors that that represents to a family. But to an older couple, or somebody that’s physically challenged, the enormity of such an experience, it’s unbelievable. …And, of course, you have to understand, while this was going on, you were trying to identify the most important things in your home, trying to get them in plastic bags or get them up on the bed. Some things you settle. You know, let them go because those are replaceable. But my grandmother’s pictures, my family portraits, I mean, those things are irreplaceable.

On the economic impact of Hurricane Maria
Farming here is already a challenge, expensive and challenging. And then … to have two Category 5 hurricane comes within 10 days of each other, it was a blow not only on the island economy, but also if you look at individual enterprises that make up our economy, they all took a direct hit, one way or the other. And it’s gonna take a couple of years … to get back in business. It’s not gonna be an easy process to just restore itself. … All the debris has to be removed. In some cases, your animals may have completely gone or died. …

Probably the biggest complaint I’m hearing from people which, I understand, is the loss of their homes, and no roof. … Because some people put all of their life savings in their home. … That was their bank account, their house, and they’ve lost it. And then, in some cases, the insurance was pretty costly and they didn’t have insurance. … You need a place to live. So that’s the big challenge … right now, restoring your home, getting back to some degree of normalcy.

On the impact of drought on agriculture
Let me make it very clear that the agriculture of Virgin Islands is a rainfed agricultural system. … Irrigation is not something that we’re big on. There are farmers who use it, but the majority of crop farmers depend on the rain. They time the planting with the rainfall. So, any deficit in rainfall is a direct hit on agricultural activities. Not only on crop farming but also on livestock. … They need vegetation and when rainfall becomes an issue, the pasture vegetation dries up. The quality of the proteins in the grass diminishes so the animals are just eating and they’re not getting the level of nutrition that they need. …

The drought that we had in 2015, I can say this to you. I grew up, born, raised, grew up on the island of St. Croix. I’ve experienced the droughts in the ’60s, the ’70s, and the ’90s. … I have never seen grown, mature trees, coconut for example, where the entire tree would die. … I’m talking about trees that were fruiting, with fruits, just dried up and died. That was how intense the drought was. … It was throughout the entire island. You saw animals dropping because basically there was no food for them. So, any reduction in moisture, whether it’s this month, next month, has a direct impact on the farming activities the Virgin Islands.

On how farmer’s prepare for drought
Most of them, when they see the rain not coming, they just don’t plant anymore. They just stop because they know they’re gonna lose their bottom margin … or they may put in selected crop like watermelon that could kind of take the heat… you may not get the size of fruits that you normally get with a lot of rain, but you will get something … But the majority of them, based on my experience, even my grandfather way back, he would choose not to plant during that period of time.

On future planning for drought
All we can do is really depend on the climatological data, look at past trends, keep up to date in terms of weather patterns, talk to your local meteorologist, consult with people at the university, at the Department of Agriculture to find out. You know, if you see things that are happening, share information, talk to your fellow farmers. … I think one of the things we need to encourage farmers to do is to have communication among themselves. Share information, reach out to people who are the technocrats, to get information to help them make decisions in terms of what would be the best crop, timing, variety selection, how to lay the land out in terms of conservation. … I think it’s all about monitoring and knowledge. … I am committed as a teacher, as a manager that information or access to information is an incredible resource to change your mindsets. … It’s all about information sharing. … There is no one solution I can paint across each farming operation. … We have to tweak it, modify, twist it, or tear it up, you know, and come up with your own. But at least you can use that as a sounding board to develop your plan that you know that’s in your best interest.

Go back to Meet Our Interviewees page